Once in a while a little-known work is presented and turns out to be a pleasant surprise. Such was the case with Das Liebesverbot, an early comic opera of Richard Wagner, presented by the USC Thornton Opera as part of the LA Ring Festival. I had the opportunity to see the final performance of this delightful work on April 25 at USC’s Bing Theatre. While there are obvious spots where it seems Wagner did not yet have full mastery of his craft, with some cuts I could see this piece becoming a viable part of the standard repertoire.
When presenting a work off the beaten track, one has to be careful to keep all the production values high in order to give the piece a fair reading. Congratulations to the USC Thornton Opera staff: All the elements were strong! The depth of talent in the cast was astonishing. Alexandra Loutsion is a dramatic coloratura to watch: Her portrayal of Isabella demonstrated this soprano’s voice has the stamina, beauty and size for a main stage career. Sophie Wingland was engaging as the tempting Dorella, with crystal clear voice and superb comic timing. Kyung Teak Lim was a convincing conflicted Friedrich, with a strong presence and rich baritone. With a broad palette, both vocally and as an actor, tenor Eric Hanson effectively painted the complex character of Luzio. As the romantic lead, tenor Yuloong Kim portrayed the role of Claudio with ease and winning abandonment. Xiaobo Su’s creamy soprano was ideal for the vulnerable character of Mariana.
Ken Cazan’s staging was packed with energy and fun, fluidly managing the large ensemble scenes and maintaining intensity for the more intimate ones. I was impressed by the musical preparation of this expansive, challenging piece. The soloists were flawless, the chorus had a thrilling sound, and the orchestra navigated the demanding orchestration with skill. Kudos to Music Director and Conductor Brent McMunn.
Cameron Anderson’s scenic design and David Jacques’ lighting design worked brilliantly together. The set was a high-walled space with a tall gate just right of upstage center. Depending on the lighting, the space was transformed from an outdoor street scene to the inner sanctum of a convent, from a courtroom to a prison courtyard, back to the courtroom, and finally a bustling street scene. The conflict between the “dark” character of Friedrich and the “light” character of Isabella was suggested through projected birds: a black raven shadow for Friedrich and a white-winged dove for Isabella. This conflict was further implied in the prison courtyard through the projection of stark tree branches, white for Isabella, a negative image for Friedrich’s trap for Claudio. Jacqueline Saint Anne’s costumes were a wonderful vision of reds for the women and gray with splashes of red for most of the men. Isabella and Mariana were dressed in the pure white garb of novices, and Friedrich (of course) was in a black suit.
If you are not already aware of the USC Thornton Opera’s excellent work, visit http://www.usc.edu/schools/music/uscopera/and join their mailing list.